Senior cats retire to the Cats Cradle

The secluded backyard in a quiet Lutz neighborhood is a make-believe world that once transported the Jenkins’ children into the Wild West.

But Frontierland, with its school house, storefronts and covered wagon, does more these days than entertain giddy children at fantasy-filled birthday parties.

Bruce Jenkins founded Cats Cradle as a nonprofit shelter for senior cats in crisis and in need of homes. (Kathy Steele/Staff Photos)

Bruce Jenkins founded Cats Cradle as a nonprofit shelter for senior cats in crisis and in need of homes.
(Kathy Steele/Staff Photos)

A menagerie of geese, roosters, chickens, a miniature horse and a goat live in the yard.

But, it is Garfield, Moxie, Bumper, Forrest and a dozen or so of their feline friends that rule this frontier town.

Frontierland is home to the Cats Cradle, a nonprofit sanctuary founded by Bruce Jenkins.

He is a savior of sorts — taking in older cats at his nonprofit that no other shelters will accept.

These are cats in crisis that have run out of options.

“We’re not taking cats that are inconvenient for somebody,” Jenkins said. “They have to be in advanced difficult circumstances, and we’ll consider taking them.”

More than a dozen cats roam the half-acre of the Cats Cradle, lounging or strolling on bridges that crisscross the yard from train depot to a lookout station at the chicken coop to a tall wooden tower.

On a recent morning, Garfield napped mid-way between the tower and a small schoolhouse that contains supplies and a video monitoring system.

Prowler, left, and Garfield hang out in the transition room. Prowler is the newest cat at Cats Cradle

Prowler, left, and Garfield hang out in the transition room. Prowler is the newest cat at Cats Cradle

Inside the schoolhouse, the colony’s newest tenant – Prowler – stayed by himself in a “transition” room, also known as the sunroom.

Prowler, a 12-year-old marble Bengal, would hang out there for awhile, Jenkins said, before moving outdoors and claiming his place in the social hierarchy.

“Prowler is getting adjusted,” Jenkins said. “The main thing is to get him used to the sights and smells. There’s a lot to do and see here.”

While Prowler was hanging out in the transition room, Garfield suddenly popped in to share feeding time with him.

Babette, a seal point Himalayan, groomed herself atop the tower. Forrest stretched out on the ground next to half a dozen feeding dishes.

Moxie padded over to Jenkins, side-by-side with the mini-horse and an inquisitive goat.

Jenkins explained the eclectic mix of animals.

“We just like a variety in a farm setting,” said Jenkins, whose property is zoned agricultural.

A row of frontier storefronts houses a senior center with cat beds and train tracks circle a water pond in the Garden Room.

Jenkins hopes in the future to raise about $2,000 to refurbish two more buildings, and open up room for more cats.

Forrest lounges next to feeding bowls at Cats Cradle, a sanctuary for senior cats in Lutz.

Forrest lounges next to feeding bowls at Cats Cradle, a sanctuary for senior cats in Lutz.

He recently began restoring an old train engine that once made appearances at the Lutz Fourth of July parade.

The sanctuary began with Forrest and Bumble (now placed in a forever home), and a plaintive request from Jenkins’ wife. Once the children, Casey and Nikki, grew up, the back yard sort of went to seed – and weed.

“Either tear it down or re-purpose it,” his wife told him.

A neighbor’s two cats and a dog in crisis made up Jenkins’ mind. The dog found a new home but Jenkins’ took in Forrest and temporarily, Bumble.

“It kind of grew from there,” Jenkins said.

Cats range in age from 8 to 18 years. No feral cats are accepted.

Babette’s owner moved from an assisted living facility to a nursing home. Similar stories of life changes, such as financial loss, death and illness, brought Prowler, Bonnie, Daisy, Tucker and Clyde to the sanctuary as well.

The cats have to be in good health and open to joining a cat colony. A local veterinarian provides discounted rates for medical care, and another veterinarian serves on the nonprofit’s board of directors.

Cats Cradle is decorated for Christmas.

Cats Cradle is decorated for Christmas.

“I don’t like to turn people away, but we have to have a balance to keep the community happy,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins does what he can to place his cats. A few have settled in as companion cats at nursing homes. “Sometimes residents are really, really lonely, but they want to care for a pet,” Jenkins said. “They are happy to have a cat to sit on their lap. It’s great for the cat. They get more attention than they’d get here.”

Or Cats Cradle residents have found a new home with individuals willing to take in an older, more settled cat.

“This is a niche we’ve kind of fallen into,” Jenkins said. “It’s a national problem. Everybody wants a cute kitten.”

Jenkins would like to put a spotlight on the problem of older, homeless cats – and dogs – and see more sanctuaries pop up around the country. He also believes pet owners need to think about setting up pet trusts as part of their wills.

“It’s unfortunate they are over age eight and often unadoptable,” he said. “Many (pets) are put down, and they have a lot of love in them.”

For information, call Jenkins at (813) 501-8868, or visit Cats-Cradle.org.

Published December 16, 2015

Comments

  1. My wife and I enjoyed the story yesterday on FOX NEWS. We are so glad you and your wife are so caring to give these cats a forever home. We have five indoor cats we take care of. They are so loving at night at least one or two of them lay in our chairs and take naps. I was not to much of a cat person until we were married in 1960 but now they are so amazing, each one has its own personality. We also have a dog that’s amazing too. We adopted her from the Pasco county animal shelter and most likely saved her life. My wife and I will celebrate our 58th anniversary Sept. 10th. We are of course retired and loving our four legged kids. Thank you for taking care of and giving them a loving home.

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